Wednesday, 29 July 2015

X1/9 Prototipo

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

This boisterous X1/9 is a corking tribute to an also-ran of the 1970s rally scene. The nature of prototypes, of course, is that they’re experimental, transitory things, not built for the ages but simply to test the water for various ideas and processes – and as such, it’s hard to say exactly how many Abarth X1/9 Prototipo rally cars were built by the celebrated tuner on the jazzy little Fiat platform. The common assumption is that it was around five(ish, maybe), so it’s probably high time that someone took it upon themselves to build another one.
The prototypes ran 1840cc twin-cams with twin 44IDF Webers, offering over 200bhp in a package that weighed just 750kg. Each had a special nose with Fiat 126 lights replacing the pop-ups and, most fun of all, a sodding great periscope at the back. It's a beguiling whisper of Abarth ephemera, and you can read more of the model's history here.
Oh, and this one bears a striking resemblance to another that I wrote a feature on in Retro Cars a few months ago...

Spotted at the Retro Show - more photos here.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Vanguard Vignale

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The Standard Vanguard is an unlikely base for a race car. The first generation dates back to 1947, offering Americanised styling pinched from Plymouth, an engine that was markedly similar to the unit Standard were supplying for Ferguson tractors, and a general feeling of chunky dependability and family-friendly sturdiness. The Phase II Vanguard arrived in 1953, updating the formula with a notchback shape and a few chassis tweaks, although the tractor engine remained. The Phase III that followed in 1955, however, did shake up the model somewhat; the separate chassis was gone, with a new monocoque construction being augmented by less weight, independent front suspension, and the option of a four-on-the-floor 'box. It still had that same agricultural motor though, albeit tweaked here and there, with a raised compression ratio dialled in to work with the better quality of fuel that was available.
The model you're looking at here is the 1958 facelift of the Phase III, the Vanguard Vignale. You can probably guess why it's called that... the Italian coachbuilders reworked the Vanguard to a Michelotti-penned design, featuring deeper windows and crisper, more modern looks, while such racy features as a heater and windscreen washers were available. (Ooh!) And yet, even so, that tractor engine lumbered on...

Interestingly, though, that doesn't seem to matter. As this car proves, you can have a lot of fun by stripping out the interior and the soundproofing, bolting in a rollcage and bucket seat, and slapping on some race numbers. The engine is pretty much stock here, but the Vanguard Vignale makes for an entertaining steer in sprint events, with Duckspeed taking it all over the country to compete in timed competitions. The most endearing element of the car is that it's far from perfect; it's been owned by the same chap since the 1970s and he's been competing in it for a long time - each dent, scuff and scrape has been annotated with marker pen as a reminder. It's an unusual choice but it works, it looks great, and it acts as a rolling history record. Rather charming, isn't it?

Spotted at MATP 2015 - more photos here.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Group 5 Renault 17

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The Renault 17 and its twin, the 15, were effectively coupé variants of the funky 12 saloon. The main differences between the two lay in their headlights and side windows; the 15 had rectangular lamps and big windows, whereas the racier 17 had quad lights and jazzily curtailed glass complemented by huge triangular faux-vent things. The 1970s were weird, weren't they?
Renault took the platform eagerly into motorsport too, ever enthusiastic to get their hands dirty and chase a few chequered flags. The 17, prepared to Group 5 specs, competed in rallies from 1972-75, becoming he first Renault model to win a round of the World Rally Championship. The factory built fourteen cars like this in all, and the one you see here is the final and most successful one. Its 1.8-litre engine produces an effervescent 185bhp and, thanks to extensive use of aluminium, the Group 5 17 only weighs 820kg, so the performance is just as edgy as you'd hope for. And it looks magnificent too, doesn't it? Now part of Renault's Heritage collection, it's concours-pristine in its period livery, with those wide arch extensions and oh-so-retro Gotti split-rims. A rather obscure and very cool slice of French motorsport history.

Spotted at the 2015 FoS - more pics here.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Aston Martin Vulcan

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

People often say that all modern Aston Martins look broadly similar. Fair? Possibly. But this is Aston Martin's riposte, the Vulcan, and it's frankly bloody terrifying.
It's got a naturally-aspirated 7.0-litre V12 that imbues it with a shouty 800bhp, mounted in the front because that's the AM way and they don't need to do mid-engined supercars. (Well, apart from the DP-100, but that only exists in a nebulous fashion.) It's the lowest car they've ever built, at just 1186mm tall, and it wears its keenness for juicy aero proudly on its sleeve; a rear spoiler that doubles as a breakfast bar and a diffuser that could be used for handy bedroom storage, coupled with a front splitter that would take great pleasure in separating you from your feet, all topped off by a disgruntled squint that serves as a constant reminder that the Vulcan is really pissed off with you.

They're only building 24 of them, all of course pre-sold at the bargainous price of £1.5m apiece. This is the way to silence the critics - yes, the V8/DB9/Vanquish/Virage/et al may be the money-spinning volume-sellers (in sports/supercar terms, at least) that share a similar silhouette, but Aston Martin are more than happy to expend some real effort into aspirational exclusivity. First the One-77, then the CC100, now this. So, what next?

Spotted at the 2015 FoS - more pics here.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Spruce Deluxe

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The 105E Anglia is, in stock form, a sort of modifying Meccano set. It's got all the right ingredients for tweaking into awesomeness - little chrome fins, retro-futurist reverse-rake chic, a natty assortment of colours, a big wide mouth like a disgruntled fish - and it's easy to make them look super-cool with a few well-chosen tweaks. Look at this little poppet, for example: the '67 Deluxe's retro Spruce Green paint works beautifully against the chrome, so that's been retained. It's augmented by a healthy dose of lowering, some nicely polished Minilites (or similar) with a fat slug of dish, and some race roundels to act as a statement of intent. It sits right, it's slathered in period features (check out the the raised-letter number plates!), and it looks like whatever's under the bonnet should provide a decent bit of poke. So... hot crossflow? Old-school pre-crossflow? Unexpected Pinto? Place bets now...

Spotted at the 2015 Bromley Pageant - more pics here.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

'Mexipreza': the name immediately tells you what's going on - half Mexico, half Impreza. The shell of the former stuffed with the running gear of the latter, you can see the beefy flat-four with its factory top-mount intercooler lurking beneath the bonnet, the wide track and the five-stud hubs, the giveaway bean-can exhaust offering a stylistic teaser... there's a general sense that the classic two-door profile's been stre-e-etched over the Subaru guts, and that must add up to a whole lot of fun.
This is a car that we need to keep an eye out for - it looks fresh on the scene, and will no doubt be making a big splash before too long.
(Oh, and if you want to see some build photos, take a peep here!)

Spotted at the 2015 Retro Show - more photos here.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Petty Superbird

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Three fun facts about the Plymouth Superbird: it had a special horn that sounded like Road Runner saying 'meep meep'; its towering rear spoiler was actually kinda practical, given that it was mounted on the wings and the boot was so long - the boot could still open beneath it; the aero nosecone made the obscenely long car even longer - adding 19 inches, the car measured 18' 5" nose-to-tail.
Now, younger readers may be looking at this car and seeing Strip "The King" Weathers, the Dinoco-blue racer from the movie Cars. That's no coincidence. The character is a homage to the 1970 NASCAR Superbird, and is in fact voiced by Richard Petty, who drove the very car you're looking at here in the 1970 season. Petty had left Plymouth to race for Ford in '68, and the Superbird was unashamedly designed specifically to lure him back to the Mopar fold; it worked, and he rubbed Ford's faces in it by taking a solid eight victories.

The Superbird's progenitor, the Charger 500, was the first American car to have its aerodynamics honed using a wind tunnel and computer analysis - that car then became the Daytona, and the Superbird was the ultimate evolution. The racer was powered by a 426 Hemi, although a slightly less shouty 440 Super Commando was an option on road cars.
It was a devastatingly effective tool - so much so that 1970 was its only year in production and competition; a victim of its own might, it forced NASCAR rules to change for '71, capping the aero cars' engines to 305ci and forcing them to carry weight penalties. These extravagantly bewinged curios were very much of their time, and it's great to see Petty again behind the wheel of this massive, brutal old warhorse. You can see him driving it here.

More pics from the 2015 FoS here.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Singer 911 Targa

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Singer's approach to 911s is arguably the ultimate form of restomodding. These aren't tacky retro pastiches, they're oldish 911s that are restyled to look like even older ones, while stuffing in the rapidity of brand new ones. Make sense...?
Take this Targa as a case in point. It began life as a 1990 964-generation car, and has been artfully reworked to incorporate the styling of 1970s 911s. But that simplistic description doesn't do justice to the sheer perfectionism that's imbued into each rarefied facet of the build - just casting an eye over the photos will show how much thought and effort goes into each and every detail. These are exquisite connoisseurs' machines; the starting price for a bespoke Singer build is around $400,000 (£256,000), with the example you're looking at here coming in closer to $550,000 (£351,000). You get a strengthened chassis, a reworked nose to alter the fixing points and allow space for an oil cooler, an integral (but removeable) rollcage, custom carbon-fibre body panels, and unique Singer embellishments such as lights and hinges made specifically for the car. The shell is treated to thirty-four coats of primer, paint and lacquer, to hide the carbon-fibre weave and keep the authentic feel of a classic steel Porsche. And the cherry on the cake is a custom-built motor, available in 3.6-, 3.8- or 4.0-litre displacements and featuring 997 RS upgrades. This Targa, a 4.0-litre car, has 390bhp and will hit 60mph in a smidge over three seconds.
The suspension is bespoke, the wheels are custom-made, and the interior is a sublime work of sepia-tinted art. Oh, and the company was founded by the cousin of Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. So yes, this car rocks on all levels.

Spotted at the 2015 FoS - more photos here.